The use of Acupuncture in Fertility and Women’s Hormonal Imbalances at All Degrees of Health in Essendon
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a very long history of treating gynaecological disorders. Infertility in Traditional Chinese Medicine is described as a failure to conceive after a year or more of regular sexual intercourse with no contraceptive use. Infertility may also be applied to the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term.
As a general rule of thumb, approximately one third of subfertility is due mainly to the female, one third to the male and one third a combination of both male and female factors. Approximately one third of subfertility is ‘unexplained’ which can be very frustrating if you are in that category. TCM may be of benefit in addressing some of these ‘unexplained’ factors.
Female conditions affecting fertility include:
Endometriosis (where there is endometrial tissue that grows outside of the uterus), causing pain and inflammation during the cycle, especially at period time. This can create localised inflammation, making it harder to conceive.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (or polycystic ovarian disease –PCOS/PCOD).
This condition has 4-5 subtypes and a diagnosis is made with 2 out of three diagnostic criteria:
Blood tests including elevated testosterone, free androgens (male hormones) and LH; and evidence of Insulin resistance
Numerous cysts on the ovaries (>15) on ultrasound on either or both ovaries
Symptoms that may include irregular cycles, central obesity (fat around the tummy area), facial hair, acne, difficulty falling pregnant and increased miscarriage rates.
Blocked Fallopian tubes:
This can occur as a consequence of pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis (where the endometrial tissue grows around the fallopian tube), infection or surgery. This is identified via a Tubal Patency test upon referral from your doctor. More information: https://womensultrasound.com.au/services/specialist-gynaecological-investigations/#tpa. This test involves putting a dye is put through the tubes and evidence of flow is attained by ultrasound. If you have blocked tubes, assisted reproductive techniques (i.e. IVF) is the only viable approach, as sperm cannot reach the eggs, and no amount of natural intervention will help. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine can be used as adjunctive treatment to support IVF treatments.
Short ‘Luteal phase”:
This is where the second half of the cycle (post-ovulation) is less than 12 days, reflective of insufficient progesterone to support healthy implantation and foetal growth.
These are growths in and around the uterus and wall that can hamper implantation and pregnancy success. Fibroids can be reflective of an imbalance in the ratios of the types of oestrogen present causing excessive ‘growth’. The underlying cause needs to be addressed as well as a discussion with your gynaecologist as to whether it is worth removing prior to becoming pregnant.
What happens in an acupuncture session?
When working with fertility and preconception clients TCM employs a number of treatment modalities including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary and nutritional therapy, and lifestyle changes.
A Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine will usually observe the patient’s tongue, palpate the pulse on both wrists, ask a lot of questions that may seem unrelated to fertility, and may palpate the abdomen or particular acupuncture points on the body for tenderness. This is how a ‘diagnosis’ is made, which is to identify the underlying cause of infertility in TCM. The goal is to help boost overall reproductive energy, and improve and balance hormones to enable a successful and healthy pregnancy.
TCM theory works quite differently to Western Medicine. For example, in TCM the Kidney organ system is responsible for reproduction, growth and ageing. When Kidney energy is insufficient or becomes depleted by lifestyle factors such as poor diet, overwork, chronic illness, or simply an individual’s progressing age, subfertility may result. Others causes of infertility in Chinese medicine may involve the ‘Liver’ organ system (often stress related), the ‘Heart’ system (often due to emotional blockages), ‘Damp’ obstruction with or without ‘Heat’ (often related to infections or tubal obstructions due to excess fluids or inflammation), Blood stagnation (lack of blood flow to reproductive organs), or Qi and Blood deficiency (lack of vital energy and good quality blood to nourish reproductive organs and promote fertility). All these Patterns of Disharmony in TCM need to be differentiated with all cases infertility so that the best treatment can be prescribed.
In biomedical terms, TCM may be beneficial in cases of unexplained infertility resulting from hormonal imbalances, endocrine gland disorders and emotional problems. Chinese medicine can also be of use with structural fertility related problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS), ovarian and immune dysfunction.